Finding Our Way Home
Are we who we were?
When I was thirteen, I travelled to England with an older relative who was returning to his place of birth. His parents had left there when he was still a baby, and he had no recollection of it. And yet, in that moment of crossing the coastline, he felt such an immense sense of coming home that it brought him to tears.
All these years later, it stuck with me how emotional he was about a place he’d never known.
He’s not the only person in my acquaintance to have had such a visceral connection to a previously unseen place. Other friends have told me similar stories. One even brought a house in France, on the strength of this kind of inexplicable feeling.
When I stood in the grounds of Chateau des Bretignolles in the Loire Valley in 2016, I think I know what these people meant. Funnily enough, it was not the seeing chateau itself that resonated, but the grounds seemed so familiar, and so “deep” within me. Like I had at one time tumbled in the autumn leaves, run free and wild through the woods, and strolled in the dappled sunshine.
Recently, my son left New York City to live upstate. Of all the places in the world he could have landed, he chose the exact place inhabited by his ancestors during the 1600–1800’s. He didn’t know that. Neither did I, until recently. But fate or some kind of ancestral pull, found him back in an area he could rightfully call home.
I guess there are many ways you could explain it. My take is that we have ancestral memories or reflexes in our DNA that we only access in the right moment, in the right place. Like deja vu, only more of an “felt” echo and less a neurological anomaly …
I don’t think it is chance.
Epigenetics have shown that our DNA communicates with us over generations. In one study, mice who developed an aversion to the scent of cherry blossom, passed that information on through their genes even when their baby mice had no contact with the parents.
This genetic transmission of trauma through a mechanism called methylation, has profound implications for how we behave as a species. What feels like a condition (depression/anxiety/PTSD) that is particular to the individual in their lived context, could in fact be inherited trauma. And I believe I have seen that in my own family, who have suffered intergenerational GAD.
Research has shown that the effects of trauma can be intergenerationally passed on through epigenetic mechanisms, such as methylation. Specifically, childhood trauma has been associated with alteration in methylation patterns in human sperm, which may induce intergenerational effects.
Nature also makes its case for genetic memory in so many ways, and none more so than the Monarch butterfly.
Monarch butterflies, each year, make a 2,500-mile journey from Canada to a small plot of land in Mexico where they winter. In spring, they begin the long journey back north, but it takes three generations to do so. So, no butterfly making the return journey has flown that entire route before. How do they “know” a route they never learned?
If Monarch Butterflies can make their way home through some biologically pre-programmed homing device, then why can’t we?
I believe that all we need is an open mind and an attunement to our genetic inner compass.
Where is yours steering you?